Pleasanter figures that haunt the Château are those of the six pretty daughters of Louis and Marie Leczinska. There are the ill-starred twins, Elizabeth and Henrietta: Madame Elizabeth, who never lost the love of her old home, and, though married, before entering her teens, to the Infanta of Spain, retired, after a life of disappointment, to her beloved Versailles to die; and the gentle Henrietta who, cherishing an unlucky passion for the young Duc de Chartres, pined quietly away after witnessing her lover wed to another.
Then there is Adelaide, whom Nattier loved to paint, portraying her sometimes as a lightly clad goddess, sometimes sitting demurely in a pretty frock. Good Nattier! there is a later portrait of himself in complacent middle age surrounded by his wife and children; but I like to think that, when he spent so many days at the Palace painting the young Princess, some tenderer influence than mere artistic skill lent cunning to his brush.
When the daughters of Louis XV. were sent to be educated at a convent, Adelaide it was who, by tearful protest to her royal father, gained permission to remain at the Palace while her sisters meekly endured their banishment. From this instance of childish character one would have anticipated a career for Madame Adelaide, and I hate being obliged to think of her merely developing into one of the three spinster aunts of Louis XVI. who, residing under the same roof, turned coldly disapproving eyes upon the manifold frailties of their niece, Marie Antoinette.
The sisters Victoire and Sophie are faint shades leaving no impression on the memory; but there is another spirit, clad in the sombre garb of a Carmelite nun, who, standing aloof, looks with the calm eyes of peace on the motley throng. It is Louise, the youngest sister of all, who, deeply grieved by her father’s infatuation for the Du Barry—an infatuation which, beginning within a month of Marie Leczinska’s decease, ended only when on his deathbed the dying Monarch prepared to receive absolution by bidding his inamorata farewell—resolved to flee her profligate surroundings and devote her life to holiness.
It is affecting to think of the gentle Louise, secretly anticipating the rigours of convent life, torturing her delicate skin by wearing coarse serge, and burning tallow candles in her chamber to accustom herself to their detestable odour.
Her father’s consent gained, Louise still tarried at Versailles. Perhaps the King’s daughter shrank from voluntarily beginning a life of imprisoned drudgery. We know that at this period she passed many hours reading contemporary history, knowing that, once within the convent walls, the study of none but sacred literature would be permitted.
Then came an April morning when Louise, who had kept her intention secret from all save her father, left the Palace never to return. France, in a state of joyous excitement, was eagerly anticipating the arrival of Marie Antoinette, who was setting forth on the first stage of that triumphal journey which had so tragic an ending. Already the gay clamour of wedding-bells filled the air; and Louise may have feared that, did she linger at Versailles, the enticing vanities of the world might change the current of her thoughts.
A Versailles Christmas-Tide - Mary Stuart Boyd
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